Abiola Adekoya, working her way to the top
ABIOLA ADEKOYA is a financial expert with over 18 years’ experience working with leading financial service firms whose activities span across various continents. She is currently the MD/CEO of RMB Nigeria Stockbrokers, a subsidiary of the First Rand Group, a leading financial services group in Africa with footprints across the globe. She speaks with KEMI AJUMOBI on her career in financial services, being a female boss, her love for youth engagement, cooking and more. Excerpts.
I grew up as the first child of 4 children and was brought up to see myself as a leader, most especially as a trailblazer for my siblings. At a very young age, my parents emphasised the importance of setting good examples for my younger ones in my conduct and also academically. My parents raised me to believe that there was nothing I couldn’t do, my mum was very entrepreneurial by nature and was very resilient and my dad, also a first born, instilled in me a strong sense of responsibility especially for my siblings and the family as a whole. I was tasked to take charge of many situations from a tender age and shown how to handle different situations when confronted by them. My family was my first point of exposure when it came to the development of my leadership skills. I am from a family that believes in democracy, so I have always approached every situation first as “a leader” with a desire to succeed, while being a good team player to ensure that everyone is carried along in achieving the objective(s). For me, leadership is not about serving myself, it’s more about serving others, so that they can buy into actualising the collective goal(s). I learnt early in my life, that if you give people a sense of belonging and they’ll not only see the goal(s), but they’ll become invested in it and go the extra mile.
Being the MD/CEO, RMB Nigeria Stockbrokers and your experience so far
In my career in financial services, I have had various roles, which included heading and setting up a high performance team and also restructuring and repositioning a business. My various roles across board have impacted positively on my growth in the industry. RMB is a member of the First Rand Group, one of the largest financial services groups in Africa and when the chance came to work with them, I saw this as a significant opportunity to build a business on the platform of an international brand that had the expertise of establishing successful financial services business across Africa and internationally. The opportunity to work with RMB Nigeria Stockbrokers was different from any other as it required me to build a business where I would be responsible for crafting the overall business strategy of the firm and also creating structures around People, Processes and Products (my 3 Ps).
Each one comes with its own personal challenges and I have had to be innovative and leverage on the support of the organisation to ensure that the business goals are achieved.
Being MD, FBN Securities
First Bank is one of the leading and largest financial services firms in Nigeria and it was important to me that it maintained that top position in the equities business. The business already had a strong presence in the equities market as a trading house and also as a broker for ECM transactions. However, it was important to consolidate the business by refocusing the business strategy to align with the overall vision of the firm and the changes in its operating environment. The most important task was to review and assess the existing structure of the business. Engaging with team on ground was also key as I needed their support in this journey. I focused on fostering a better relationship within the team and organised team retreats to motivate and improve communication within the team. Improved operational efficiency was achieved by streamlining process and leveraging on technology. There was also an active focus on product innovation and building human capacity via training and recruitment to fill in some of the skill gap. With these new developments, we deepened existing business relationships and signed up new clients which helped to achieve our business goals of improved market share, turnover and income.
How has your experience in equity capital market transactions helped in your transactions and dealings?
The Equities Capital Market is one of the most important markets for corporations seeking to raise capital and for entrepreneurs looking to unlock wealth. I joined the market in 2006 when banks were seeking to raise capital and entrepreneurs were also seeking to unlock wealth by offering their shares for sale to investors. My firm participated in a number of those deals as stockbroker to the issue and we handled transactions in various sectors including banking, consumer, conglomerates and construction. Some of these deals were pioneer deals either because of their size, biggest deal on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, or their sectors. I also had the opportunity to engage with various investors including High Networth Individuals and institutional investors – Pension Fund Managers (PFAs), emerging market and frontier fund managers, sovereign wealth funds both domestically and internationally. I participated in domestic and international road shows as we engaged clients on the details of the transactions.
Early years in banking
My first banking experience was during NYSC as a bulk teller in a market branch and when I got to the branch, my first reaction was “get me out of here” with a tear rolling down my eye. But after I calmed down, walked around and met some amazing people, I decided to stay. It was one of the best decisions of my life. That decision further reinforced my resilience to succeed in the face of challenges, I never back away from a challenging role or situation, I stay till the end or till I find a solution that is workable. I also learnt the importance of managing your boss. Usually, we expect our bosses to manage us but the best way to get a fantastic working relationship is to manage your boss. I call it managing up and when you do it successfully; your boss becomes your biggest cheerleader.
How do you help to promote the growth and development of young people?
I love young people, their energy and enthusiasm is so infectious. Young people for me are the salt of any institution, be it the family, the workplace or the society in general and they need to be careful mentored and empowered. I have a lot of young people family, children of family friends, young associates in various organisations and other young people who reach out to me regularly to provide guidance and support for them as they make major life decisions in career, education or even relationships. What is important for me is to understand the person especially their skills, upbringing, societal and religious beliefs and finally habits.
I encourage and push them to chase their goals, provide feedback and admonish where necessary, share my experiences where relevant and offer guidance based on my knowledge of the subject matter. However, I leave them to make their decision and in my experience they usually make good decisions. Because of this approach, a lot of them use the tools they’ve learnt from me to make decisions in other areas of their lives. The best reward for me is when I see them thriving, I’m always proud and excited to recommend them to others.
Like I said earlier, I’m a firm believer in mentorship as I have benefitted greatly from being a mentee over the years. I learnt at an early stage in my career that feedback was important to grow. Some of my mentors were my previous bosses and I still revert to them today when I need advice on certain career and life decisions. I also actively cultivate strong relationships with leaders, both within and outside the financial sector, especially with women because I need to leverage my business and managerial skills to be successful in my role while not compromising on my core values. Through active mentorship, I’ve sharpened my leadership skills and also built a strong network of relationships that has impacted my career and general life positively. Most of my direct reports see me not only as their line manager but also as a mentor because my approach is to ensure that we can align their personal goals with that of the organisation, which has proven to be a key catalyst in building a high performing team.
As a leader, when those you lead start leading others, build high performance teams or excel as trail blazers, that for me is the greatest sense of fulfilment and achievement. It makes me believe it was worth it and should be repeated.
Women on boards in Nigeria, are they sufficient?
In the last few years, some organisations have taken active steps to increase female representation on their boards and data shows that women gained more board seats than men in 2017. Also, companies are increasing the number of seats to accommodate more women on their boards. These achievements are significant and are laudable but there is still a gap in female representation on boards. Women create a much needed balance and provide a diversified and objective perspective to business strategy that is invaluable to the success of a firm. I’m proud to be a woman in this time in history, as so many barriers were broken by those ahead of me that allowed me to strut in, in my heels with my superwoman cape and walk right through; to those women I remain eternally grateful. There have been many glass ceilings broken, some making the headlines and others done by silent SHE-ROES, but unfortunately, new ceilings that continue to affect the advancement of women keep coming up/created and they need to be broken. So as a woman and for every other woman, whenever you see any glass ceiling or a barrier wherever you are, no matter how little, please don’t walk away or ignore it, please do your best to break that ceiling, so that the other women behind you strut in just as you and I did.
Lessons learnt as female boss at the helm of affairs
As a young graduate, when I was looking for a job, I was focused on the sectors and organisations I wanted to work for and looked for employment within those sectors. I also wrote a 5 year plan as a graduate of what I wanted to achieve within this period, I included the salary I wanted to earn, the level I would be at, what role or responsibility, what savings and even what type of company I would work for. You’d be surprised what planning can help you to achieve or avoid. My advice to others is, be humble period! Humility will open doors that pride will shut. Never be ashamed to admit that you don’t know it and always ask for help. There’s no leader that knows it all. Read and improve your knowledge about your industry and also take self-help courses. Learn to receive feedback in good faith….even I still need to remind myself of this daily. Money is good but don’t chase money at the expense of knowledge. Knowledge will take and keep you in places where money will no longer be a problem or regarded as a solution.
Passion for cooking
I have always had a passion for food. My love for cooking came from my mother, a retired banker and an amazing cook, who could cook up a storm effortlessly while ensuring a spotless kitchen afterwards. However, I ran a successful cake business as a student in the University of Lagos and my friends were shocked when I opted to work in finance instead of running my own cake business. But I love finance with the same passion and I have no regrets today. My love for cooking has always been and will always be there…I share this love regularly by hosting my friends and family regularly to eat with me. I design my meals around various themes, which I plan very carefully, and I’m always keen to try out new recipes. I may not be a professional chef, because I love the excitement of cooking new dishes and entertaining people in an intimate setting, so I do not have any immediate plans for now but I’m always open to new opportunities. Cooking is never a chore, for me it’s like breathing.
There’s so much I still want to do, be and experience….I look forward to looking back at my life and saying, I LIVED MY BEST LIFE!
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